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SC to hear afresh plea on transparency in senior advocates designation

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to hear afresh a plea seeking transparency and overhauling in the “opaque system” of designating lawyers as senior advocates.

The apex court also tagged with it a petition pending in the Delhi High Court which challenges the provisions of the Advocates Act relating to the designation of lawyers as senior advocates.

A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, which had on October 21 last year reserved the order on the plea pending before it, said it would be “more appropriate if the matter is set down for fuller arguments afresh” along with the writ petition pending before the high court.

It said after reserving the verdict, some lawyers approached the apex court to intervene in the matter and submitted that all have not been given a proper hearing on the issue. The petition pending in the high court challenges the constitutional validity of sections 16 and 23 (5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 which provide the statutory basis for designation of lawyers as senior advocates. “Now, if the source of power for such designation is itself under challenge it would be more appropriate to hear the matters together by transferring the petition pending in the high court to this court,” the bench, also comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, said.

“This is particularly so because issues touching designation of lawyers as per the prevalent procedure appears to be causing considerable dissatisfaction among a section of the bar which fact is evident from the large number of interventions made in these proceedings and an equally large number of solutions proposed at the bar for improvement of the system,” the bench said. “A feeling among those opposing the process of designation that they were not heard fully before the matter was reserved for orders only adds to their frustration and avoidable misgivings,” it said while recalling its October 21 order by which it had reserved its verdict in the matter.

The bench fixed the matter for final hearing in February along with the petition transferred from the high court.

The court noted in its order that after it had reserved the judgement, an application was filed seeking recall of its October 21 last year order on two grounds, including that when the matter was taken up for hearing on that date, the bench did not fully hear submissions on behalf of various lawyers. The second ground was regarding the petition pending before the high court challenging the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Advocates Act.

During the hearing on October 21 last year, unsavoury scenes were witnessed in the apex court when some lawyers got agitated and started shouting at each other to get attention of the Chief Justice’s bench, leading CJI T S Thakur to lose his cool and asking them to “shut up” or get thrown out. The CJI had warned some of them that they could be thrown out of the courtroom if they did not behave and told an advocate who had raised his voice, not to do it again.

The bench was hearing a PIL filed by senior lawyer Indira Jaising seeking transparency and overhauling in the “opaque system” of designating lawyers as senior advocates. After the order was pronounced today, Jaising wanted to know about the course of action likely to be taken on designation of lawyers as senior advocates till the matter is heard afresh.Justice Thakur, the outgoing CJI, gave the assurance that no such proposal of designating senior was pending before the apex court and nothing is going to happen till February when the matter will be taken up.

Jaising had earlier told the court that “monopoly” at the Bar of a handful of seniors was affecting access to justice and sought a system that provided “equal opportunity” to all as she compared it with the concept of monopolistic and restrictive trade practices.She had alleged that the present system was discriminatory and “if we want this to continue with the present system, it has to be democratised”.

Earlier, the apex court had said that it was open to suggestions from the Bar to improve the system of designating lawyers as senior, but the final decision would remain with the judges. It had said that the Bar could form a committee and the court could take into account the views of the committee. In the PIL, Jaising had termed the present process as “opaque, arbitrary and fraught with nepotism.” She had claimed that the advocates taking up matters of human rights or public interest litigations were ignored and there was need to analyse data relating to the cases argued, judgements delivered in their matters and their contribution to jurisprudence and legal aid programmes